Wednesday, May 23, 2012
When do you know that it is time to make a change? I'm not talking about swapping out a toothbrush, buying country instead of classical or dying your hair red. I'm talking about a significant change, one that will affect the way you do life, the way you make decisions and ultimately, your retirement. How long do you wipe your child's tears as they once again cry in pain inflicted by unkind looks and words that are daily thrust upon them in the classroom, the hallways, the lunch room and the playground. When do you take a stand and say "No More!" For me, like most single moms in America, wearing multiple hats is not unusual. There is the mom hat, the sister hat, the daughter hat, the employee hat, the advocate hat, well, you get the picture. Working as a full time employee for the State of Virginia and being a full time mom to an eight year old daughter (trying very hard to be 18) and to an eleven year old creative and quirky son who just happens to have Autism, is enough to keep me busy way more than the meager 24 hours alotted in one day. Trying to maintain structure and balance by someone like me who is so ADHD that it's just ridiculous, is virtually impossible. Add to the regular day to day challenges of life the battle you must wage constantly to protect and/or advocate for your child, I am surprised that there are not more runaway parents. Wearing all these hats also includes my favorite (not) the hat of provider, better known as the one who buys the groceries, pays the light bill, the mortgage, the car payment, insurance, extra curricular activities, school fees, water bill, trash pick up, vet bill, co-pays and parking tickets (stupid 10 minute parking at a downtown bank, seriously!) Sometimes I find that hats become old and frayed. Sometimes hats can be repaired and sometimes they just need to be discarded. The problem is which one do you discard? After eight years of advocating, wiping tears, searching for the right "fit" in a school, I finally realized that my family and I could not do life like this any longer. We are all tired of doctor's, psychologist's, psychiatrist's, therapist's, teacher's and every other well meaning bystander in the line at Target who has witnessed yet another meltdown, offering their words of wisdom and making matters worse. We are tired of medications that cause headaches and grouchiness, we are tired of teachers giving up and peers calling out names like stupid and loser as we pass them on our nightly neighborhood walk. My son does not have the skills YET to be able to successfully deal with the negative blows he is dealt daily. He certainly is not going to gain any social skills in the public school system. If anything he is getting an excellent education in how to lose your self esteem in just one day. As the wearer of multiple hats it occurred to me that the one I would least expect to "discard" is actually the one that really needed to go. Maybe not go, but definately change! In February 2011 I thought I would get an early start searching for a summer camp for my son to attend. Much to my dismay I did not find anything in my town. I mean nothing. Yes, there are camps but they are all for either "neuro-typical" children or children with many different types of special needs. There was nothing specifically for children with a primary diagnosis of Autism, Asperger's or other related developmental delays. I started searching some of the caregiver sites looking for a nanny or someone who had experience with Autism. I typed in the word "Autism" and hit search. Wow! There was message after message from desperate parents seeking a "friend or anyone to spend time with" their child. "We will pay top dollar for a friend to take our son to the movies or just hang out." I was heartbroken. It was then that I asked God for a way to be able to help not only my son but others going through the same thing. It was then that it was placed on my heart to start a summer camp for children with Autism to be just what they were meant to be, children. In August 2011 after thinking, talking, researching, seeking and thinking some more, Richmond Autism Integration Network (R.A.I.N.) was born and the journey began. Over the last year I have talked with and written to countless parents all sharing the common bond of a child with Autism. Everyday a new idea, new comment, new insight and new friend came to be. I have been so excited to be on this journey and I have learned so much from my son. I started looking at him for who he is not who I wished he would be. I have watched him grow with me, both of us learning about each other, both of us striving to be the best person we can be. School has been a disaster. I think his teachers gave up on him before Christmas. As his mom, I will never give up on him. I will do whatever it takes. With this said, I made the bold move on Friday to withdraw him from school. When I observed several teachers standing over him in the hallway, throwing paper towels at him and kicking a trash can at him as he was on his hands and knees sobbing, trying to clean up the Coke he had spilled and NO ONE helped him. That was it. That's what it took and I am ashamed of myself, in a way, that I did not know it was that bad at school. He tried to tell me but he could not find the words. So, not only have I been wearing the employee, advocate, started a non-profit hat, but I also felt the need to add one more, the home school educator hat. I don't know if I would call it a "leap of faith" or pure insanity, but on Monday I resigned from my full time, salaried, state job, with benefits. I guess deep down I have known that it was time to make a change, I was just a little afraid (oh ye of little faith!)The way of life that I have always known changed in an instant. The look on my son's face Friday said it all. So, the plan is to continue to grow R.A.I.N. and to home school. I was blessed recently with a part time on call position for a local home health agency and actually have been approached by two parents in the last two days who have asked if I will home school their sons too. I don't know what God has in store but when I asked him last February to make a way for me to be a stay at home mom by June 2012, he did exactly that and then some. Doors are opening and my son is smiling again. I will miss the veterans I work with tremendously but I know I did the right thing. So, I did not discard the provider hat I just changed it a little. This is definately a new path and this chapter of my life will close fully on June 29th. I can't wait to turn the page and start "doing" life in a whole new way!